Fun, Fashion Blog With Masacote Ent.!

I recently started doing  independent editing and journalism work for a Boston-based Latin dance company, Masacote Entertainment. In this latest interview, I talk to Burju Perez– the front business woman behind the salsa to street shoe friendly shoe co. Burju Shoes. Here, we talked about the opportunities and challenges of marketing and selling shoes in both the underground Latin dance world and the mainstream fashion industries, the pro-business elements of working as a woman entrepreneur in the dance and fashion worlds, and how Latin dance influenced her personal style and design sense.

Here’s the link to the piece:

http://www.salsamasacote.com/blog/2017/05/01/burju-means-business-how-dance-inspired-one-salseras-path-to-entrepreneurship-in-the-fashion-world/

Advertisements

Dropping Some Knowledge With 826 Boston

Arts & Culture High School Journalism Workshop

Last week I gave an arts & entertainment journalism workshop at the Burke School in Dorchester with 826 Boston– an organization that offers in and out of school tutoring and creative writing opportunities to local high school kids in urban settings. Their creative writing opportunities, such as this journalism workshop, are aimed to give kids a space to express themselves artfully through writing practices that mainstream public school education often doesn’t.

I started this workshop by talking “big picture” with the students about the power of arts and entertainment journalism not just for critiquing art, but for its sociological significance. I highlighted the fact  that social issues are often at the center of artists’ work. As media makers, journalists therefore have the opportunity and power to not only increase the visibility of artists’ work, but to amplify the voices of the artists and social issues that drive their work.  

For a practice exercise, I decided to have the kids critique and create some music reviews, mainly because I thought it would be a fun activity to engage the students. I chose two musicians’ with Cuban roots, which was in part by default that I just spent two months in Havana and fell head over heals for the country, culture and people there.

The first song I chose was Afro Mambo by Robert Fonseca, who is a Grammy award winning Cuban jazz artist. I chose his work not only because the song is cool and catchy, but because the video is unique, well done and showcases Havana’s beauty as a city and culture in an interesting and authentic light.

I also had the students listen and critique the song River, by Ibeyi, who are two twin, twenty year old and uber talented French-Cuban musicians. (One is on percussion and the other vocals). I chose this song not just for its musical quality, but because their lyrics are deep and poetic. I wanted expose and express the power of music’s ability not just to entertain through beats and moving bodies, but for its ability to showcase and ignite the power of words.

Overall, I was super excited to do this workshop not just for these kids, but for myself. It gave me an opportunity to get my feet with teaching and showed me first hand the artistic and creative power that exists not only in art making but through the process of teaching.

Dance Floor Diversity: A Presentation on Segregated Nightlife @ Boston College Diversity Challenge

This past October, I presented a journalism paper at an academic conference at Boston College’s Diversity Challenge: race, culture and social justice. The paper is titled “Finding CommonGround on Boston’s Segregated Nightlife Scene,” which was published in DigBoston in the Spring of 2014. I first became familiar with this conference a few years ago while presenting an academic paper there on ADD, which is a past sociological research interest of mine before I got hooked on the whole arts-culture-journalism thing. (Well, actually these two writing and research pursuits aren’t exactly separate paths, but that’s another story!) The Diversity Challenge works to bring together academics, social workers, and activists from all over the world committed to tackling issues of racial diversity in their work. Each year the conference has a different theme such as, health and mental health, education, public policy etc. When I found out that this year the theme of the conference was race and culture, I jumped at the chance to submit the diversity and nightlife piece.

IMG_3101

This time around at the conference, I opted to create a poster presentation instead of presenting the paper verbally for a few reasons. First, I reasoned that creating something visually artistic and creative to present my ideas would allow me to not only portray but practice a main idea embedded in this work. That is, the potential for nightlife to diminish or transform the social problems that play out in clubs, bars and on dance floors (including rape, assault and other forms of gender, class and race based violence) lies strongly in the power of art and creativity to counteract those problems through engendering positive, inclusive and respectful environments. This is primarily because a love, appreciation and respect for music, dance and art in a nightlife environment often translates into an appreciation and respect for the people in that space. Hence, from a sociological perspective, the art, music and dance that take place in a nightlife space strongly affect the social relations and social issues or problems that take place there.

IMG_3102

In the research I did for this piece (and through personal experience and observation), I found that nightlife events that have art, music and dance at their center (as oppose to drinking and “hooking up”) or that were part of actual music and dance scenes (i.e. salsa dancing or house music) tended not to be plagued with the same issues that say, a top 40’s night at a dive bar in downtown Boston is. In the dig piece I quoted one house dj veteran: “At our events, the last thing on your mind is fighting because you are way too busy dancing.” Along these same lines, another long time Boston house head told me: “Energy attracts. People who are into violence or ‘macho foolishness’ seem to be turned away from our spaces.”

IMG_3106

Aside from promoting the role of nightlife and creativity as serious for sociology, at its core, this project cast light on Boston’s segregated nightlife scene as a dominant reality held back by a particularly harsh history with segregation and de/segregation. Yet I also profiled “pockets” of nightlife in the hub that embrace more diverse communities and highlighted the characteristics of these scenes and events that work to resist segregation. Some of those common characteristics include a commitment to celebrating globally inspired music and dance and as, pointed out previously, a heavy emphasis on community and dancing.

While the paper had a sharp local lens, I also touched on broader, sociological themes that highlighted nightlife as an important, yet often neglected and undermined social site where racial segregation, oppression and other social problems can and do occur. However, I also stressed that nightlife spaces can be powerful vehicles for social change under ideal circumstances.

IMG_3103

In the original dig piece I pointed out that, despite the importance of nightlife as an important arena for social change, “politicians, sociologists and activists tend to focus on politics, economics and education- as for nightlife, not so much.” How often, for instance, do we hear presidential candidates talk about social change and nightlife when campaigning? If and when they do talk about this, how often is it cited in the media? Would voters take politicians seriously if they did chose to bring nightlife into their agenda or campaign strategies?

Despite this neglect of nightlife, the problems that occur there point to the need for activists, policy makers, social workers and sociological oriented academics to pay better attention to this arena of social life. On the poster presentation, I included a section that brought up sociological questions raised from this work that those with an activist agenda interested in nightlife might focus on. These include: Are nightlife spaces legitimate sites for social change? How can activists, social scientists, politicians, policy makers and artists better use nightlife as catalysts for social change? Is there a place for nightlife in public policy and politics? If so, how can we include nightlife into these arenas? What characteristics tend to promote more diverse crowds and resist racial segregation? How can cities and cultures better support these nights?

IMG_3107

New Capoeira Article @digboston

My latest feature at digboston on capoeira in the hub considers the “roots” of capoeira- as a form of resistance, freedom & cultural connection and how these themes play out both individually and socially in the lives of Brazilian capoeiristas in Boston.

https://digboston.com/special-feature-mestres-of-the-universe/

 

 

 

Writing With a Pen Vs. Typing: Thoughts on How Technology Influences the Writing Process

IMG_2431

Writing with a pen &  paper verses typing on a computer may seem like a trivial issue, but it’s an act that has important consequences on the quality and creativity of one’s writing, as well as on society as a whole. While I write regularly using both pen and paper and a computer, when writing with a pen, I feel like I can go deeper into my thought process and access ideas more freely and easily. The flow of ideas simply isn’t as easily accessed while typing. Like the electric connection that exists between two lovers, there’s a stimulated synchronisity between the mind, hand and piece of paper that seems stronger and different writing longhand than on a computer.

That a writer actually holds an object with the hand (in this case, a pen) while writing longhand seems important. The hand is the gateway that synchronizes the electric connection between the mind and body, allowing thoughts to flow more freely and easily onto paper. Perhaps this is why, when I’m working on something important or creative or if I’m struggling with an idea or project while typing, I find myself almost instinctively reaching for a pen. Doing so allows me to reach or rekindle a deeper flow.

Writer Lee Rourke touches on this synchronicity that occurs while writing long hand in a 2011 article in The Guardian about “Why Creative Writing is Better With a Pen.” He writes:

“For me, writing longhand is an utterly personal task where the outer world is closed off, just my thoughts and the movement of my hand across the page to keep me company. The whole process keeps me in touch with the craft of writing. It’s a deep-felt, uninterrupted connection between thought and language which technology seems to short circuit once I begin to use it.”

Cambridge based writer Lauren Slater wrote about her experience taking meds for Depression in Prozac Diary, which I think also serves as an ideal metaphor for this short-circuiting that can happen while typing verses writing longhand. She writes: “I was a different person now, both more and less like me, fulfilling one possibility while swerving from another. There is loss in that swerving”(1994:49).

You write like a different person now, both more and less like you, fulfilling one possibility while swerving from another. There is loss in that swerving.

Another common reason for preferring long hand is that that the internet can be distracting. In the same way that you wouldn’t want to be checking your twitter, email or facebook while meditating (for the sheer purpose that it would distract you from your meditation practice), these things can also disrupt one’s writing process. Others prefer writing longhand because they view ink on paper as allowing for less room for initial editing. On a computer, the writer has the ability to edit every word almost immediately-erasing any trace of a word or phrases’ existence in a split second. Some feel that this can have the effect of “photoshopping” one’s writing process. In contrast, writing on paper- without the ability to second-guess one’s thoughts and words through immediate editing, can leave writing more raw or “real.”

While technology may “short-circuit” the writing process in various ways that can be limiting, typing on a computer can also enable the writing process.  Computers and technology are electric connections themselves- and our minds and bodies aren’t exactly separate from them. In the same way that an electric connection exists between the mind, hand, and the object you are writing with, so too does an electric connection exist between your mind, hand and computer. Computers can  transform the electric connection between your mind and hand and allow new connections to take place- fulfilling new possibilities, while swerving from others. Might the act of writing in itself, being the electric connection that it is, also be defined as much of a technology as it is an art?

I also find typing on a computer to be extremely helpful in terms of organizing my thoughts and ideas. This is very important to my personal writing process, since I tend to have an all-over the place thought process when I write, which can become chaotic if I don’t organize my ideas properly.  I find that when I start organizing ideas on a computer, I can see and place ideas side by side in new and different ways than on paper, and this allows me to make new connections and associations between ideas. Computers help me organize my thoughts into coherent ideas in ways that paper simply can’t compete with.

 Since I want to capitalize on the benefits of both computers and writing longhand, I usually opt to use both.  Throughout writing a piece, there is a dance between writing with a pen and creating the entire piece on the computer. I start most writing projects by making a big, messy yet coherent list of ideas on paper that consists of any major themes I’m touching on combined with any details or creative lines or details I know I want to include. I then select ideas from that list, which are translated into a loosely organized outline on a computer. The piece then emerges as much on the pad as it does on the computer as new connections are made and new ideas emerge. If and when I want to go deeper into an idea, I opt to first write it out longhand and then develop it on the computer, dancing back and forth between the computer and the pad and pen- even if it’s just one sentence. At the end of this process, everything is of course transferred onto the computer.

The issue of writing longhand verses typing on a computer is not just an individual or artistic choice, but a broader sociological issue that raises important questions regarding if and how socieities want to modernize and take advantage of the benefits of new technologies without sacrificing traditional methods that came before us. What parts of ourselves and cultures do we wish to hold on to and what do we want to shed in order to progress, and live more freely, happily and creative? The issue of writing longhand verses typing on a computer gets at and works through the heart of these questions. In using both long hand and a computer (and being selective about how, why and when I’m using each method), I feel like I can get the benefits of both traditional and modern writing  means of writing.

 

Mad in America or Madness in the Media? Reflections on The Mad in America Film Festival

Last week I wrote an article for Boston.com with the headline “Mad in America Film Festival Challenges Boston to ‘Rethink Psychiatry.” The festival took place in Arlington over the weekend of October 9th-12th, which included 40 films, live performances, and a handful or so of panel discussions. A central component of this “rethinking” processes included challenging the medical model on mental health and illness, which maintains that these struggles are solely biologically rooted disorders that must always be treated with medication. In contrast, those who favor more sociological and psychological perspectives tend to root mental health and illness in social and psychological factors and life experiences such as trauma.

The films and the overall perspective at the festival definitely favored sociological and psychological perspectives. A few of the films covered stories of people with mental illness diagnosis’ choosing to live with out medication who, at times struggled, and at others thrived. Many films also highlighted successful alternative treatment centers around the world that were psychiatric drug free and also chose not to use modern, western psychiatric models and language such as, refraining from using terms like “illness” and “disorder”. On the whole, many of the films in the festival seemed like a step forward in that they stressed they were not “anti medical model films,” yet still maintained a critical stance. In doing so, they opened the door for conversations between different perspectives to emerge.

Though I have a lot of experience studying and writing about mental health in academic formats (I wrote my Masters thesis on ADD and ADHD in a sociology program), this was my first time writing about mental health in a journalistic style. When I first pitched this story I seriously questioned whether a more mainstream news site like Boston.com would be open to covering the efforts of an organization that were at least in part, at odds with contemporary, mainstream psychiatry. Because the medical model reigns dominant in the way that mental health is diagnosed and treated in this country, sociological perspectives are often marginalized in diagnosis and treatment as well as in the media. The festival’s creator, Robert Whitaker previously worked as a journalist in Boston, and actually discusses in one of the films how he was marginalized and shunned by both the media and medical community in Boston as a result of some of his viewpoints that challenged much of contemporary biological psychiatry.

 Both writing about this festival and being there made me question what sort of changes might take place if more sociological perspectives were represented and accessed in the media. Currently, it’s very rare that one would see a sociological study-especially a qualitative or arts based research study, cited or written about in the media. Instead, we are bombarded with articles (and advertisements) that seek to confirm the medical model. This has the effect of driving sociological perspectives underground and often restricts that knowledge to academic and fringe circles. How might the inclusion of sociological studies, including qualitative and alternative research methods like arts based research in the media change people’s experiences and access to different forms of treatment? Is it possible to include alternative or “fringe” perspectives into the mainstream media with out those perspectives being co-opted? While I don’t think there are solid yes or no answers to these questions, writing this piece for Boston.com restored a faith that under the right conditions, there is a place for alternative and/or sociological perspectives in the media.

Reflections on Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 @ Brighton Music Hall (9/7/14)

I first came across Fela Kuti- the Nigerian father of Afrobeat (a style of music that blends mainly jazz with traditional and modern West African rhythms), when a jazz enthused ex boyfriend of mine transferred all of his music onto my computer back in 2007. There were four songs by Fela (Let’s Start, Black Man’s Cry, Ye Ye de smell, and Egbi Mi O (translation: carry me I want to die), that grabbed my attention more than anything else out of his entire collection. Fela’s music is intense, intricate and complicated, yet accessible and dance friendly, with lyrics to match. He is seductive and intimate with both rhythms and words, yet his music speaks to broader populations as well. Much of his music (and life) was politically charged- inspiring and prompting people to act back on society.

Years after the ex had first introduced me to Fela, I heard his music played consistently by a few choice dj’s in Boston. I also attended a few memorable live afrobeat shows during this time- all of which were heavy dance oriented events…Dancing to afrobeat (as oppose to just hearing it) simultaneously deepened my love for the music as a whole. I felt my whole body  connect with it- rather than just my ears.

A couple weeks ago, a Fela enthusiast friend of mine mentioned that one of Fela’s sons, Seun Kuti and his band Egypt 80 were playing this past Sunday night in Boston at Brighton Music Hall. When he described Seun as “the closest thing to seeing Fela,” I jumped at the chance to see him.

 Seun graced the stage around 10 p.m. wearing black and white leopard print pants and a matching shirt (half plain black and half leopard print). He was accompanied by 12 other band members (some of whom were the original members of Fela’s band- The Afrika 70). The band’s confident, laid back expressions on their faces matched a solid performance- exposing what appeared to be, an unshakable bond.

Kuti interspersed his songs with mini social justice oriented soliloquies- covering everything from feminism to biases with in the English language. This molded the show into a call and response event not just with music, but words, as the audience hollered responses to Seun’s sociological insights.

The crowd seemed engaged and impacted, both by Seun’s performance and the connection it gave them to his fathers music. About half way through the show he took off his shirt exposing a tattoo that read “Fela Lives” broadcasted across his back shoulders-verifying his father’s legacy.

After the show, I stayed a bit, chatting with some friends and familiar faces in the crowd. One noted he thought afrobeat might be making a come back. Evidence of this possibility includes not only Seun’s show, but  another top notch afrobeat show @ Johnny D’s this coming Friday featuring Tony Allen and the Chicago Afrobeat project. (Allen is a world class drummer and was also a premiere member of The Afrika 70).

Both the Egypt 80 show and Tony Allen’s upcoming gig are good timing. “Finding Fela”- a two hour documentary about the musical and life history of Fela, just finished a one week presence at the Kendall Square theatre on August 24th. The documentary consisted of a creative compilation of Fela’s life- as both a musician and activist. It covered everything from his vibrant, popular, captivating music at his infamous club, The Shrine (which served as much a site for entertainment as to rally and resist political matters), to his multiple run ins with the government as a result of such resistance (including raids in his home, jail time, and physical torture), to his complicated love life. (Fela was notorious for having multiple wives). A friend who saw the documentary noted: “I’ve never seen a film that made me want to cry and get up and dance at the same time.” The same goes for Seun’s live show this past Sunday night.

 

Below is a badass video of Seun Kuti at a music festival in Louisiana (2012):